Many of us remember our first day of school; it is one of life’s big moments. However, I never heard of anyone who failed his or her first day of kindergarten, except me.
I was so excited about going to school that I would ask my parents when I would get to go to school like my older brothers and sister. Our school was only a block away from our house and I could clearly see the schoolyard play ground from the front window. The older kids looked so happy playing and running and chasing, school must be great, fun and games all day long. In the fifties there weren’t any nursery schools that I was aware of. Every mother stayed home to take care of their children, and I imagine every mother was happy to send their kids to kindergarten at age four or five, especially if they were begging to go.
I was so proud on my first day. It was a warm day in early September. My father was a schoolteacher in a different town but he took the morning off to walk me to school that day. I felt I was the only boy lucky enough to have his dad take him. I don’t remember what I was wearing. I’m sure it was one of my brother’s hand-me-down school outfits, but I’ll never forget what my father wore. He was wearing his blue and white seersucker suit and he looked so handsome. He held my hand securely and told me reassuringly how proud he was and not to be scared. Right Dad, I thought, just let me at that playground.
As we got closer to the schoolyard my father kept talking but I stopped hearing. All cared about were the other kids already playing. My teacher greeted us as we walked through the gate. She was as tall as my father was and had a bright red beehive hairdo. She wore a mid-calf solid green dress.
“I’m Mrs. Lader and your classroom is over there.”
She points to the orange brick building behind her.
“You can play on the swings with the other children until its time to start.”
And that was it, I was off and running, I didn’t look back. I heard Mrs. Lader say,
“Well, he won’t have a problem.”
I wonder if my father did.
We played on the swings until all the children arrived. Mrs. Lader brought us in to the class room and showed us the play area, the story area, the upright Spinet piano, our desks and most importantly, the cookie closet.
The day progressed with out incident and I played and played. It was just like I imagined it, all day playing. Mrs. Lader kept on talking but I wasn’t really paying attention to her, there were too many other exciting things to do. At the end of the day Mrs. Lader came to me with a piece of paper and using a safety pin, pinned the paper to my shirt.
She leaned down, held my shoulders with both of her hands and said in an overly loud voice
“Make sure your mother reads this.”
My mother read the note when I got home. By the look on her face I could tell that apparently it wasn’t good news. I asked her what was wrong.
“Nothing honey, we’ll show the note to your dad when he gets home”.
I was sitting on the edge of my parent’s bed, waiting when my father came in. He asked me how my first day was as he took off his tie and coat; my mother showed him the note. He read it aloud.
“Have your son’s hearing checked, he doesn’t answer to his name”!
I was stunned.
“Can’t I hear?” I cried, starting to panic.
My father rubbed his face like he always did when he was worried and told me the story of how I got my name.
My father was born on a farm in Italy and he was the eldest son in his family. When he was 7 years old his father, my Grandpa George, brought his family to America. It is a tradition in some Italian families that when the oldest son eventually gets married, their first male child is named after the grandfather, in this case George.
My mother was born in Georgia and of English descent. She did not like this naming tradition and she did not like the name George. I am the fourth born of 5 siblings, second youngest. Neither of my older brothers were named George, my mother insisted on different names. But when I was born my father argued that I may be the last chance they had to name a son after Grandpa George, she acquiesced. However, she always called me by a nick name, Mike. Mike was my middle name. All my siblings called me Mike and that was the only name I had ever heard.
When my parents registered me for school, they showed my birth certificate which of course said George Michael Girolamo. Naturally my teacher called me by my legal name. As she was giving instructions and telling us the rules of the class room, I was playing. She called my name to get my attention and I seemingly ignored her.
“George, George, are you listening”?
I kept playing, hence the note pinned to my shirt.
My father told me this story and to the ears of a 4 year old all I heard was my name really wasn’t Mike, it was George. They lied to me, I was stunned, what else did they lie about. Was I really their child?
The next day my parents wrote a note to the teacher and pinned it to my shirt. They explained that they named me George out of respect for my Grandpa, but I went by my middle name out of respect for my mother.
The only thing I had to know on my first day of school was my name and in essence, you could say I failed the first day of kindergarten. Things went smoothly from that point on, and in spite of that inauspicious start, I did learn the rules of the classroom and eventually graduated from kindergarten.